How Cold Weather Affects Your Heart

Are you and your heart ready for the frigid depths of winter?

Cold Weather and SCA

Photo Courtesy: NBC News

Brrrrr! With great swaths of the country feeling the icy effects of January, now is the perfect time to make sure that you and your heart are staying warm this winter.

Winter can present its own special set of challenges and can be especially treacherous if you’re over 65, have already had a heart attack, or have been diagnosed with heart disease. Regardless of whether or not you have heart disease, though, taking care of your heart and body during bitterly cold months is a smart move.

Why is Winter So Hard on Your Heart?

Our bodies naturally react to cold environments by making certain physiological adjustments. Put another way, your body works harder when it’s cold. And that’s generally a good thing! The extra effort your body puts into staying warm protects your vital organs and helps maintain your core body temperature. However, while natural and necessary, these changes can be challenging — and perhaps even dangerous — for people with heart disease.

Heart Attacks are More Common in the Winter

Cold temperatures can cause your blood vessels to contract and your blood flow to speed up. In fact, that’s what helps keep you warm.

However, it may also cause your heart rate and blood pressure to increase. When this occurs, your heart is working significantly harder than it does under more temperate conditions. If you factor additional exertion like slogging through heavy snow or shoveling a snow-covered walkway into the equation, it could be a recipe for a heart attack.

“According to a study published in JAMA Cardiology in November, which analyzed information on about 274,000 people living in Sweden, the risk of having a heart attack was greatest on days when the temperature was below freezing. Another study, published in PLOS One in 2015, found up to a 31 percent increase in heart attacks in the coldest months of the year compared with the warmest” (Consumer Reports).

Risk of Stroke Increases in the Winter

If that’s not enough to make you head for the coat closet (or Florida), frosty temps can also increase the likelihood of blood clots which, in turn, increases the odds of suffering from a stroke or embolism.

Fortunately, many of the causes that are commonly believed to be behind the increased incidence of stroke during the colder months, whether infection, lack of sunlight, depression, or sedentary lifestyle, are preventable. Just remember to wash your hands, take your vitamin D, and get some exercise. If you think you may be suffering from depression, talk to your doctor!

Hypothermia Can Lead to Heart and Respiratory System Failure

When your body temperature dips below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, things get pretty ugly pretty fast. When this happens, hypothermia sets in and your heart, circulatory system, nervous system, and other organs cannot function properly.

Left untreated, hypothermia can result in death.

Symptoms of moderate to severe hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness

How to Protect Yourself from the Cold

Now that we’ve established that winter is a bleak and frozen landscape dotted with danger and peril, it’s time to offer a few fail-safe recommendations for staying warm and protecting your heart.

Keep Your Home Cozy

If you haven’t conducted a home energy audit, now may be the time. Look for (and seal) obvious air leaks, upgrade your insulation, and inspect your furnace and ventilation systems to make sure you’re not wasting your warmth. Then, crank up your furnace to a toasty 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stay Active Indoors

If you’re staying indoors because it’s just too cold outdoors, be sure to stay active! Move around at least once every hour and avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time. This gets the blood flowing and helps keep you warm.

Splurge on Some Tasty Tea

Go ahead and indulge a little. Just be smart about it! We recommend warm, wholesome meals and a nice cup of flavonoid-rich black or green tea.

“Short-term studies have shown that drinking tea may improve vascular reactivity—a measure of how well your blood vessels respond to physical or emotional stress. There’s also evidence that drinking either black or green tea may lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels” (Harvard Health Publishing).

Layer Up!

Not only is it like giving yourself a nice, warm hug, but wearing a number of thin layers can keep you warmer than one thick layer. Thin layers trap air and create a natural insulation barrier. And if you’ve never been called a hot head, we’re happy to do the honors. You can lose a ton of heat from your head, so don’t forget to don that stocking cap!

Shovel Smart

If you’re heading outside to clear a pathway, err on the side of caution. Let someone know what you’re up to so they can keep an eye on you, give yourself plenty of breaks, use an ergonomic snow shovel or snow pusher, avoid alcohol (which can make your body think it’s warm when it’s not), and above all else, listen to your body!


For more information about AEDs, CPR training, or First Aid certification, contact contact Cardio Partners at 866-349-4362. We also welcome your emails; you can reach us at customerservice@cardiopartners.com.

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